They prove the ritual use of human remains from the Neolithic

They prove the ritual use of human remains from the Neolithic

2023-09-20 20:00:12

Caves served as burial sites and subsequent modification of human remains for thousands of years in the Iberian Peninsulaalthough daily activities were also carried out there.

In the archaeological sites of the south of the Iberian Peninsula (sites used from the 4th millennium BC), archaeologists have found evidence of handling of human remainsalthough the cultural meaning underlying these practices is largely uncertain.

To date, many bone remains deposited in prehistoric caves present cuts and marks that the scientific community had sometimes attributed to the use of bones for human consumption.

More than 400 human remains were analyzed, coming from the Mármoles cave, in Priego de Córdoba, and preserved in the town’s Archaeological Museum

But, now, a study presented by the researcher from the University of Córdoba, Rafael Martínez Sánchezlead by Zita Lafranchi y Marco Milella, from the University of Bern (Switzerland), together with other experts from different research centers, advances the knowledge of the funeral rites that took place from the Neolithic. In this work that has just been published in the magazine PLoS ONE, It documents how prehistoric societies They modified human bones to make use of them.

To do this, more than 400 remains were analyzed, both adults and young people, from the marble cavein Priego de Córdoba, and preserved in the town’s Archaeological Museum.

Thanks to molds created with good resolution, and studied with an electron microscope, the research team was able to observe that many of the marks on some bones are compatible with a cleaning processin order to use the bone remains as tools and, in principle, not from consumption.

As Martínez Sánchez explains, establishing that the bone marks belong to one use (tools) or another (food) is difficult, especially because, as they were deposited on the surface of the cave and not buried, these remains may have suffered other types of eventualities. taphonomic modifications (by animals or trampling, for example) over the years.

The marks on the bones are not necessarily compatible with obtaining the soft parts for consumption, but rather with a more careful cleaning process.

However, the research does not necessarily see compatible the marks of the bones with the obtaining the soft parts for consumption, and yes with a more careful process cleaning for a instrumental use. Thus, they have found a fibula with the end amputated, a modified tibia or a cut-away skull, reserving the cranial vault.

Human bone found in the cave. / JC Vera Rodríguez

To this is added that the carbon 14 dating of 12 remains has offered three periods of funeral use in the Marble Cave: in 3,800 BC. C., in 2,500 BC. C. and around 1,300 or 1,400 BC. c.

The first of these periods, which corresponds to the Neolithic, coincides with the generalization of the use of dolmens, designed to house collective burials. Therefore, it is a time in which greater care for the ancestors.

This coincidence between the first burial period of the Marble Cave with the beginning of Megalithismtogether with the fact that the marks on the bones do not seem compatible with consumption, reinforces the idea of ​​the research group that it is a cleaning management with which to prepare human remains so that they can be used as instrument at one point.

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As Martínez Sánchez maintains, “it seems that there is an idea of group the dead in the same place, clean the remains and use the bones as instruments, perhaps related to some type of ritual carried out inside the cavity.”

With this investigation, the team has managed to determine a most likely manipulation of bone remains. not linked to consumption, but to more complex factors. Thus, it seems that the bones were used for ritual and cultural aspects after the deposit was made. And these activities have a great temporal projectionsince they cover from the end of the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, a time “in which we did not expect bodies to continue being deposited in this cave,” concludes the researcher.


Laffranchi Z, M. et al. “As above, so below: Deposition, modification, and reutilization of human remains at Marmoles cave”. PLoS ONE (2023)

Rights: Creative Commons.

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